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Culture or control – what’s driving the back-to-office mandate?

Last month, Boots’ UK CEO Seb James stated that there was “no doubt” in his mind that the office was the best place to work, as he announced that the business would be scrapping its current hybrid work strategy.

This has rekindled the back-to-office debate and the real drivers behind it.

One argument I read is that a CEO’s agenda is driven by experience bias of building their successful career from the office.

Another theory is that a company’s growth stage can determine whether home or office work is suitable. The assumption is that leadership teams in high-growth businesses need to be together to brainstorm and collaborate for agility and innovation. I’m less convinced by this.

My firmly held belief is that you need both.

I wouldn’t have said this pre-pandemic as I am from a generation whose career grew with almost exclusively office-based working.

But I do recall reflecting with some friends in late 2019 about what 2040 working practices might look like for our children, and we agreed that technology would redefine what was possible.

Little did we know what lay ahead.

The pandemic taught me (and many others) that preconceptions are a dangerous thing. COVID-19 forced us to transform our working practices practically overnight. For the last four years, office-based workers have become conditioned to remote work.

Whilst you can’t build a business culture with excessive remote working, a hybrid working strategy is a sensible compromise with limited impact on productivity.

Most of my clients adopt a balance of at least three days in the office and two days from home. They are reasonably fixed on this approach, which I support. Leadership is responsible for developing the next generation—a lot of what you learn comes from experiences, shadowing, observing and listening to conversations in the office.

It can be very difficult to measure how working practices specifically impact financial performance. But insisting your people are in the office five days a week has become outdated.

Companies that don’t adopt a sensible hybrid working practice will be at a competitive disadvantage when hiring and retaining exceptional people.

What do you think?

Contact me for advice on attracting and hiring the right leadership team in consumer and retail. at BartonRock Executive Search.

About BartonRock: BartonRock is the executive search partner for high-growth consumer and retail businesses

We manage the careers of executives whose know-how and commercial acumen steer the strategic direction for companies to thrive.

Our assignments search for executives who understand how to operate in dynamic and entrepreneurial environments.

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